Chapter 3

RUTH CHAPTER 3

Scene 3: Ruth, at the Threshing Floor, Asks Boaz to Marry Her (3:1-18)

      • Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said to her, “My daughter, shouldn’t I find security for you, so that things will go well for you? Isn’t Boaz, whose young women you have worked with, our relative? Look, tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. So, bathe, put on some perfumed oil, and dress in your best clothes. Go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you’re there until he has finished his meal. When he lies down, notice the place where he’s lying. Then, go and uncover his feet and lie down, and he will tell you what to do.”

      • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “The threshing floor was a flat surface of stone or hardened earth. The farmer spread the sheaves of grain over its surface and beat them to separate the grain from the straw. Then the farmer would begin winnowing by throwing the mixed straw and grain into the air with a wooden fork or shovel. The breeze carried the lighter straw and chaff downwind, while the heavier grains fell to the threshing floor.”

        • The correct interpretation of Naomi’s instructions in this passage, particularly the command to “uncover his feet,” are highly disputed. The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible explains why, “The instruction is seen by some as a double entendre. Sometimes the Hebrew word translated ‘feet’ is a euphemism for the genital region (see Isa 7:20; Eze 16:25; and perhaps Ex 4:25; Jdg 3:24; 1 Sa 24:3), but most of the time ‘feet’ simply means feet. Complicating the interpretation, however, is the use of ‘uncover’ (glh) which sometimes referred to sexual relations (Lev 18 [14 times]; Lev 20 [6 times]; Dt 22:30; 27:20; Eze 16:35-39)…”

        • Honestly, this understates the issue since, as this Times of Israel blog post points out, there are multiple statements throughout this chapter that also could support the illicit interpretation.

        • So, how are we to understand what happened here? After reading several points of view, my personal opinion is that Bob Deffinbaugh, writing for Bible.org, has the most unbiased, realistic, Biblically supported position. So, I will include excerpts from his article throughout this chapter and encourage the interested reader to view his article in its entirety. His conclusion is as follows:

          • In my opinion, the plan which Naomi proposed to Ruth in our text was a shortcut, but by the grace of God, the two principle characters – Ruth and Boaz – remained sterling examples of godly conduct. You will find that some scholars and Bible teachers tap dance all around the threshing floor, fervently trying to sanctify Naomi’s actions. In my opinion, it is a futile effort. But it is not difficult to see the godly manner in which Ruth and Boaz handled the risky situation into which they had been placed…When it comes to our text, some interpreters wish to persuade the reader that there was a common cultural practice underlying the actions which Naomi directed and Ruth carried out. But the reality is that we see no such practice in the Bible – anywhere! Thus, I take the text at face value. I do not believe that there is some unique cultural interpretation here. Folks, when a woman bathes, puts on perfume and dons her best dress, and then secretively climbs under the covers with a man who has had his fill of food and wine, I don’t think anyone in any culture would read this in any way but what we all assume. Now I say this to forewarn you that I do not believe that Naomi’s proposition meets muster. It falls short of moral high ground. But having said this, I would hasten to say that when the chapter ends, neither Ruth nor Boaz have compromised their character. Naomi’s proposition is the backdrop against which the moral purity of Ruth and Boaz is contrasted.”

        • On verse 1, Deffinbaugh notes, “This episode begins with Naomi seeking to convince Ruth that, as her mother-in-law, she has the right to play matchmaker (that is, to meddle so as to bring Ruth and Boaz together as husband and wife)…In Naomi’s mind, at least, it gives her some basis for taking the lead here. More than this, Naomi’s question implies that what she is about to propose is intended for Ruth’s good. By this, Naomi claims to be intervening in order to bring about what is best for Ruth…”

        • On the significance of mentioning that Boaz will be at the threshing floor that night (in verse 2) he writes, “I believe it is reasonable to infer from Deuteronomy 16:13-15 and Hosea 9:1-2 that there was a certain amount of celebration associated with the threshing floor, because this threshing took place at the end of the grain harvest. We see similar celebration at the time of the sheering of the sheep in Genesis 38, and this ‘celebration’ had the potential for turning into an occasion for immorality…Tamar knew that when Judah, her father-in-law, went to Timnah to ‘shear his sheep’ this would be a similar time of celebration, a time when Judah might be expected to use the services of a prostitute, and thus she dressed as a prostitute and was ‘hired’ by Judah in this capacity. I am convinced that the same temptations were often associated with the threshing floor. This explains why Boaz will later insist that no one know that ‘a woman came to the threshing floor’ (Ruth 3:14)…I find it hard not to assume that since Naomi knew that Boaz would be at the threshing floor that evening, she anticipated that this would likely be a more vulnerable time for Boaz. Naomi’s plan seems to assume his vulnerability and seeks to take advantage of it. As she reveals her plan, this assumption seems even more likely to be the case.”

        • Moving on to Naomi’s plan in verse 3, “The plan is really simple. Ruth is to bathe, put on perfume and a dress (presumably the best one she has), and then present herself to Boaz at just the right moment – that moment being after he has eaten and after he has had sufficient wine to be ‘cheerful’ (for his heart to be merry), and after he has settled down in bed. Only then was Ruth to slip under the blanket at the feet of Boaz, waiting for him to tell her what to do next.” Deffinbaugh gives 13 reasons Naomi’s approach was wrong. Here is a sampling:

          • Naomi proposes to solve a problem in secret that should have been dealt with in public; Naomi’s plan seeks to appeal to the baser instincts and impulses of Boaz, not his higher sense of duty; Naomi’s plan does not call for thought and reflection, but rather for impulsive, irreversible action (Remember that marriage was not consummated by the declaration of a preacher, or elder; marriage was consummated by the sexual union of a man and a woman. Once a marriage was consummated in the marriage bed, there was no easy way out.); Naomi’s plan seems to deliberately bypass and exclude the nearest kin, giving preference to Boaz instead; Naomi’s scheme needlessly put the reputation of two godly people at risk; Naomi’s plan seems to assume that the end justifies the means.”

      • And Ruth replied, “I will do everything you have said.” So she went down to the threshing floor and did according to what her mother-in-law had commanded. When Boaz had eaten and drunk until his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the pile of grain. Then she came in quietly, uncovered his feet, and lay down.

        • Deffinbaugh writes, “Essentially, we find the same expression used in Esther 1:10 (‘was feeling the effects of the wine’) that is also used in Ruth 3:7 (‘and his heart was merry’)… It is just too obvious that Naomi was anticipating that the wine would have a dulling effect on Boaz’s judgment. Let us not forget Noah’s nakedness after his consumption of wine in Genesis 9, or the way in which Lot’s daughters employed wine to seduce their father so that he would impregnate them. Then there was Absalom’s use of wine in 2 Samuel 13:28 to dull Amnon’s senses so that he could be assassinated.”

      • He continues, “We should begin by noting the author’s choice of words in verse 6. Here, he tells the reader that when Ruth went down to the threshing floor, she did all that her mother-in-law had ‘commanded’ her…That is the way she perceived it…The way I read these words, Ruth did not do everything exactly as Naomi had instructed, but she acted consistently with what she was commanded. When we get to Ruth’s actions and choice of words, we find that she obeyed Naomi’s command in a way that was completely honorable and consistent with her noble character. We should add that because Ruth responded in a godly and honorable way, Boaz could immediately recognize her piety and respond accordingly…Boaz lays down some distance removed from the workers, providing the kind of privacy that enabled Ruth to slip under the covers at his feet, unnoticed by anyone (even Boaz, for the time being).”

      • At midnight, he was startled. He turned over and saw a woman lying at his feet. He asked, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant because you are a redeemer.”

      • Deffinbaugh says, “But sometime in the middle of the night, Boaz was suddenly startled out of his sleep. Someone else was there with him, lying at the end of his blanket (or covering). Sitting up and leaning forward, he asked who was there. Now it was up to Ruth to carry out her mission. I’m not sure that things are going exactly the way Naomi planned. Boaz has not told Ruth to do anything; he has asked who she is. And so Ruth’s next move is not to do whatever Boaz would tell her, but to humbly and modestly ask him to fulfill his role as the family redeemer. Her response to the inquiry of Boaz is a masterpiece…These are very carefully chosen words. When Ruth identifies herself as the servant or maid of Boaz, she chooses a different term than the one she employed in verse 13 of chapter 2. In chapter 2, the term for maid (or handmaid or maidservant) is one that speaks of a very lowly maid, which is exactly Ruth’s point. She considered herself totally unworthy of the kind of treatment she was receiving from Boaz. But now she uses a term which speaks of a maid who is higher in the social strata, a class of maid who would be considered eligible for marriage. Yes, in a general sense, she is asking Boaz to marry her, but more specifically she is asking him to be her kinsman redeemer (go’el). So why did she choose the words that she spoke to Boaz? Where do they come from? I believe she chooses these exact words because of what Boaz had recently said to her in chapter 2:

        • The LORD repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” (Ruth 2:12, ESV)

        • He continues, “I must admit that I am puzzled why so many of the translations would render the same Hebrew word ‘wings’ in Ruth 2:12 and something different in 3:9. I believe that when Boaz commended Ruth for seeking God’s protection (under His wings) in chapter 2, Ruth seized on his words when seeking his protection in chapter 3. In other words, Ruth is asking Boaz to be God’s answer to her prayers by redeeming her. I believe this was the noblest request ever made of Boaz, and he immediately regarded it as such.”

      • And he said, “My daughter, may you be blessed by Yahweh. You have shown more kindness now than before because you have not gone after young men – whether rich or poor. Now don’t be afraid, my daughter. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you’re a worthy woman. It’s true that I am a redeemer, but there is another redeemer who is a closer relative than I am. Stay here tonight. In the morning, if he’ll redeem you, then good, let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then as Yahweh lives, I will. Lie down until morning.”

        • Returning to Deffinbaugh, “In the midst of such easily misunderstood actions, how was it that Boaz could so quickly conclude that Ruth was acting in a praiseworthy manner?… First, we should not overlook what Boaz knew of Ruth from previous experience. Boaz had already indicated that he was well aware of Ruth’s conduct and character in the past, and he pronounced God’s blessings upon her (Ruth 2:11-12). Second, what Boaz personally observed of Ruth’s actions and words that night did not change his opinion of her…Whatever it is that some might think Ruth did that night under the covers, Boaz does not see it that way, and we had better esteem her highly, as he did. He recognized that had she sought to merely satisfy her physical desires, she would have looked elsewhere – to someone younger. No, Ruth was not seeking her own interests; she was seeking the interests of her mother-in-law and her deceased husband (and father-in-law). Because of this, Boaz vowed to do everything in his power to honorably fulfill her request.”

        • He adds, “As much as Boaz wanted to comply with Ruth’s petition, there was something that he could not overlook as a man of principle, as a man who was intent on obeying God’s law. The law specified the order in which the levirate marriage duty was to be fulfilled, and he was not the first in line…Boaz would do everything he could for Ruth, but he would do so as God’s law prescribed.”

      • So she lay at his feet until morning, but got up while it was still too dark for people to recognize each other. Boaz said, “Don’t let it be known that a woman came to the threshing floor. Bring the cloak you’re wearing and hold it out.” She held it out and he scooped six measures of barley into her cloak, then he placed it on her and she went into the city.

      • Deffinbaugh writes, “It was surely not safe to send Ruth back into the city unescorted in the middle of the night. He could not escort her home without raising all kinds of questions, nor could it be known that any woman was there on the threshing floor that night. It would have been assumed that immorality was the reason for such a liaison. And so Boaz instructed Ruth to lie down once again at his feet until morning. Before dawn and before anyone else was awake, Boaz warned Ruth not to let anyone know that a woman had been there. He then sent her away with all the grain she could carry.”

      • Ruth came to her mother-in-law, and Naomi asked, “How did it go, my daughter?” And Ruth told her everything the man had done for her then said, “He gave me these six measures of barley saying, ‘Don’t go back to your mother-in-law empty handed.’” Then Naomi said, “My daughter, wait until you hear what happens because the man won’t rest until he settles this matter today.”

        • Our commentator notes, “Naomi is now confident that Boaz will follow up on his commitment and see the matter through to the end. She knows Boaz well enough to assure Ruth that the matter will be settled before the day is over. And she is right, as we will soon see from chapter 4.”

      • Deffinbaugh summarizes by saying, “Things might have ended differently, and that would not have been good. Both Ruth and Boaz were placed in compromising situations, but both responded in a godly way so that their character was evident, and the goal which Naomi sought to reach could be gained by a much higher road.”

        • He then concludes by pointing out some valuable lessons that can be learned from this chapter:

          • Godly character is evident in ungodly settings. The godly character of both Ruth and Boaz is dramatically displayed against the backdrop of chapter 3. Circumstances were far from ideal here, but that did not prevent these two people from living in a way that should command our respect…”

        • Men are called to be moral leaders in their relationship with the opposite sex. In our culture, it is sometimes assumed that men will be the aggressors and that it is the woman’s role to ‘put on the brakes.’ This is often the case in dating. Many young men seem all too willing to go as far as the young woman will permit. This is not the way it happened in our story. In effect, Naomi instructed Ruth that she was to do whatever Boaz said (3:4). Had Boaz not been a man of character, things might have gone in a very different direction at this midnight meeting under the covers and in the cover of darkness. But it was Boaz who took the moral leadership so as to protect the purity and reputation of Ruth. Young men, this is the standard for you. You (and I, and every man) should be the kind of moral leader who takes the moral high ground, protecting the purity and reputation of those women with whom we associate. This is what real manhood is about. Remember, Boaz was a ‘mighty man of valor.’ He showed that not only on the battlefield, and in the barley field, but at the threshing floor as well.”

        • Beware of ungodly counsel that comes from people who appear to be pious and to have our best interest at heart. Naomi appears to be intent on seeking what is best for Ruth. Her counsel sets forth a plan which would seemingly provide Ruth with the security and blessings of a husband, a home, and an heir. In spite of how this counsel was presented, the reader should see through this and realize how wrong it was.”